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Leadership for Lawyers? 5 Reasons to Care About Leadership, Even If You're Not 'In Charge'

As busy attorneys, it's easy for us to see terms that don't crop up in our practice every day and assume they have no relevance for us. Unless you're dealing with the False Claims Act, you probably don't have much idea what a qui tam action is (I know I didn't). And if you're focused on the due diligence obligations of a merger, you probably don't care about the nuances of criminal disclosure obligation stemming from Brady. The same is true of non-legal concepts related to our practice. Unless it's you on the hook, you're probably not spending much time with the details of your firm's trust account or marketing efforts. If these are part of your responsibilities, you know that the invisible parts of your practice matter as much (and sometime more than!) how well you can write the brief or negotiate the contract.

"Leadership" often falls into the same category of "not on my radar yet." And sometimes, leadership never gets on our radar because we conflate it with management or think that lawyers simply support leaders in other roles and industries. (Sidebar: on the issue of management vs. leadership, check out the discussion I had with Steve Fretzin on the Be That Lawyer podcast.) The truth is, you're seeing the impact of leadership in your practice already, and as your practice and your role grow, you'll see these impacts more and more. Here are 5 reasons to care.

1. Time Management. This may be a strange place to start because we often think "leaders + followers = leadership," but leadership starts with you. Struggling to balance multiple responsibilities can be a sign that your leadership needs a tweak. You've got substantive legal work to do, you need to respond to new client demands, develop new business, take care of the administrivia of your practice (tracking time; sending invoices; paying paralegals, experts, and investigators; etc.), and meet your own well-being needs, and care for your relationships with friends and family. And ....? What did I miss for you? Being able to prioritize, delegate, and structure your work in useful ways comes back, broadly, to time management, and your ability to do that is an extension of your leadership skills.

2. Decision-Making. Have you struggled to decide how to raise a concern with a supervising partner or whether to take on a particular client? When you're facing decisions that have critical impacts for yourself, your team, or the success of your firm, your ability to lead matters. For most decisions, that starts with having a firm grasp on your values. Your values can serve as your compass when the situation is turbulent or you're time-pressed to make the right decision.

3. Communication and Influence. This is a classic (i.e., well-recognized) aspect of leadership, and it's one that we often assume requires the right genes or innate talent to do it well. Making sure your team -- from the smallest teams to the highest levels -- understand your vision, expectations, and goals requires more than a 'stand up at the all-hands meeting and whip them into a cheering frenzy' speech. In fact, you'll almost never do that; some of the best, most effective leaders I have worked with have an unconventionally staid manner, but they generate tremendous loyalty and commitment from the people they work with. Communication and influence as facets of your leadership are skills that we too often believe are talents.

4. Well-being. I've mentioned this before, but your well-being and that of the people you work with is a critical component of job satisfaction and engagement. And beyond that, it can have profound effects on how you and they are experiencing life more generally.

Our profession needs us to take ownership for our professional environment and the culture of our practice. Managing work and life, preventing burnout, creating engagement are all areas that benefit from a focus on leadership.

5. Professional Identity. This is an area most of us never give any thought. What does it mean to be a lawyer or to be a lawyer in your firm. Your professional identity matters in more ways than you might think. Two simple ways developing your professional identity can make a difference are as a market differentiator and as an element of your authenticity. Whether you're a solo or a part of a firm, your professional identity can be the reason clients come to you or stay with you. Knowing who you are, what you stand for, and what you promise your clients gives you the freedom to act with greater confidence. At a more personal level, understanding your professional identity can give you confidence to bring your unique perspective to the problems you take on for your clients and the solutions you offer. Eliminating the mental load of uncertainty about how you show up for your team or your clients means you've got more energy to put toward the actual lawyering in front of you. I think identity is at the heart of why being a lawyer is special, and exploring and refining your identity is part of the process of growing as a leader.

These are just a few of the reasons why leadership is for everyone. Being 'in charge' can make some of these impacts more clear, but you can see that leadership matters even if it isn't your name on the building or the letterhead.

When you're ready to explore what being a lawyer and a leader means for you, set up a Legal Leadership Strategy Session with me to talk about a few simple steps you can take to get you on your way.



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